- Marcel Duchamp
- For Sitting Only
- titled and dedicated [To] Jean and Julien [By] Teeny and Rrose on an accompanying bookmark
- foam rubber
- 40.5 by 37cm.
- 15 7/8 by 14 1/2 in. (irregular)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Embodying the playful and often provocative spirit of Dada, For Sitting Only is a rare example of Duchamp’s celebrated Readymades. The invention of the ‘readymade’ in 1913 turned the world’s understanding of art on its head. Taking found objects, initially chosen specifically for their ordinariness or ‘visual indifference’, Duchamp transformed them into works of art by stripping them of their original meaning and placing them in a different context under a title that provided them with a new significance. Whilst some objects – the snow shovel or the eponymous urinal Fountain (fig. 2) – were turned into works of art simply by addition of a title and placement in an artistic space, for others Duchamp combined or altered manufactured objects to create new pieces. Defying artistic conventions of beauty and craftsmanship these objects opened up a new world of possibilities and remain among Duchamp’s most important works.
For Sitting Only is a particularly significant example of a Readymade. Created as a unique piece in 1957, it was given as a wedding present from Duchamp and his wife Teeny to Julien Levy and Jean Levy (née McLaughlin Davis), who married in Connecticut on 20th January of that year. Duchamp met Levy, a New York gallerist, in 1926 and the following year the two travelled to Paris, where Duchamp introduced Levy to the group of artists who congregated around André Breton in the early days of Surrealism. These meetings were to have a profound influence on Levy’s life; he became a key advocate of Surrealism in the United States, holding the first American exhibition of Surrealist Art in his New York gallery in 1932. A passionate art dealer and collector, Levy exhibited works by a wide range of artists, from all the major Surrealists including Man Ray, Ernst, Dalí, Cornell, Magritte, Lee Miller, Kay Sage and Dorothea Tanning, to Arshile Gorky as well as a number of photographers. Created some thirty years after they first met, For Sitting Only is a testament to the enduring friendship between Duchamp and Levy.
Jennifer Gough-Cooper and Jacques Caumont wrote about the present work: ‘In the depths of the Connecticut countryside, the Duchamps attend the marriage of Jean McLaughlin Davis to Julien Levy. Using an old-fashioned book mark, Marcel has indicated that the wedding present from Teeny and Rrose is “For sitting only”. A spongy collar, the shape of a toilet seat, is decorated with seven falsies, like those used for Prière de toucher [fig. 3], the nipples of which are tinted pink: a “seins-siège” in other words’ (J. Gough-Cooper & J. Caumont, op. cit., n.p.). Like Prière de toucher, which was created for the cover of the catalogue for the exhibition Le Surréalisme en 1947 held in Paris, the present work demonstrates Duchamp’s interest in adding a tactile dimension to the visual and intellectual quality of his art. This tactile element is augmented by the use of unconventional materials – foam-rubber in the case of both works. With its whimsical humour, this tongue-in-cheek object is a great testament to the subversive spirit shared by the artist and the dealer.